Samsung SP-H700AE DLP Projector Page 2

Another unique feature of the SP-H700AE is the calibration procedure. I'll discuss this in more detail in the Calibration section, but for now, suffice to say it's much easier than any other video display I've ever seen, and it results in far more accurate color reproduction. Not only that, it also allows much more consistent performance from one sample to the next than other projectors can manage. For example, I saw a demo at CEDIA 2004 in which two SP-H700AEs were projecting the same image onto two different screens (Stewart Studiotek 130 and GrayHawk Reference Series); other than the apparent contrast ratio, which is a function of the different types of screens, the two images looked identical. This is unheard of, and it means that dealers can offer every customer the same picture quality. Once again, I must commend Joe Kane for this remarkable feature.

I set up the SP-H700AE in Tom Norton's studio, which is much bigger than mine, and he has a variety of screens to try (Stewart Studiotek 130 and FireHawk as well as Screen Research ClearPix2; we didn't use the FireHawk or ClearPix2 much because of the projector's relatively low light output, which I'll discuss shortly). We positioned the projector at a distance of about 13 feet from the screen to produce an 80-inch-wide image. As mentioned earlier, the manual includes a very handy chart of throw distances and images sizes, which makes it easy to place the projector at the right distance for the size of your screen.

When we first turned the projector on and tried to display an image, the colors were totally messed up, with serious flickering and false contouring. A call to Kane's office revealed that this has been known to happen on occasion, and that a hard reset (power off, disconnect power cord, wait a minute, reconnect power cord, power on) usually solves the problem. They also mentioned that the wiring harness inside the projector can become dislodged during shipping, and that once the harness is secured and the hard reset is accomplished, the problem doesn't recur. For us, the hard reset did the trick.

We did a complete calibration after the projector had about 41 hours on it (see "Calibration"), but in the meantime, we did some quick measurements of its out-of-the-box condition (that is, after we fixed the initial problem described above). We started with the FireHawk screen and measured several IRE levels in the Dynamic, Standard, Movie1, and Movie2 picture modes using the Theater (low) lamp mode. Here is a table summarizing these results:

IRE Dynamic (9300K) Standard (8000K) Movie1 (6500K) Movie2 (5500K)
30 10,068K 8683K 6829K 5699K
50 10,294K 8683K 6826K 5703K
80 10,187K 8647K 6821K 5711K
100 10,293K 8745K 6827K 5727K
Light output (100 IRE): 10.5fL 11.3fL 8.6fL 7.6fL

As you can see, the actual color-temperature readings are a bit higher than the specified value, but not by much, and they are quite consistent. More interesting, the light output is quite low on the FireHawk screen (it was also rather low on the ClearPix2), so we ended up using the Studiotek 130 for most of our evaluation.

Once we calibrated the projector, it was time to settle in for some serious watching. First up was Spider-Man, which we played from the Meridian G98 DVD player using its DVI output at 720p. One of TJN's first comments was, "This movie looks better than I remember, which says something about this projector." The depth of the picture was exceptionally good, and the colors were rich, deep, and true. In particular, Kirsten Dunst's red hair and fair flesh tones were excellent—very natural. The dark scenes were a bit gray; TJN thought they weren't quite as good as other similar projectors, such as the BenQ PE8700+, Sharp XV-Z12000, and Marantz VP-12S3.

Next, we watched an episode from the sci-fi TV series Andromeda on DVD (anamorphic transfer) using the Marantz DV-8400 DVD player sending 480p to the projector via DVI. Once again, the picture looked excellent overall, with superb flesh tones and exceptional detail, which was especially evident in facial close-ups (hairs, pores, etc.). In this case, TJN and I both thought the black of space looked quite good. He said the picture was dimmer than he remembered with other projectors, but I didn't find the light level to be objectionable. However, I did see more rainbows than I normally do—which is to say, I saw some rainbows; usually, I don't see them at all.

We also used the Marantz DVD player to watch the opening scene from Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, which is very dark. It looked surprisingly good; the shadow detail in the pan across the masts was very good, as was the night watchman's stroll through the crew quarters. Both TJN and I have seen better shadow detail, and we suspect the highlights would have been better if the projector had a bit more light output, but we could still see what was going on.

The final DVD we checked out was The Incredibles, which looked, well, incredible. Granted, animation is very forgiving of digital projection, but I've never seen it look better.

We turned our attention to some HDTV material from a Zenith HDR230 ATSC receiver/PVR (component-video connection), including the 2004 Academy Awards (720p from ABC) and the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show (1080i from CBS). In all cases, the picture was razor-sharp with beautiful color. The Academy Awards included some movie clips that, surprisingly, were inconsistent in their black performance; for example, the blacks in the Pirates of the Caribbean clip were great, but not in the clip from Cold Mountain.

Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" from the Super Bowl halftime show was detailed enough to easily make out the sunburst design of her nipple ornament, and the Samsung's accurate flesh tones were especially appreciated at that moment. This and other 1080i clips clearly demonstrated the exceptional quality of the Genesis processor's frame-based deinterlacing to 1080p (with 3:2 pulldown correction) before scaling to 720p.

Another HD source we tried was the JVC HM-DT100 D-VHS VCR (review in progress) using a component connection to play the good ol' ABC HDTV demo reel (720p). As expected, it looked fantastic; the trailer for Disney's animated Tarzan was especially beautiful.

I'm particularly concerned about the availability of all aspect-ratio settings using the DVI input, so we used the Meridian G98 DVD player with its DVI output to test the projector's behavior in this regard with different resolutions. At 480p, the Samsung provided three aspect-ratio settings: Full, Zoom1, and 4:3. In Full mode, 4:3 material looked correct; oddly, the 4:3 mode squeezed this material horizontally. Also, letterboxed DVDs were displayed in a 16:9 window within the 4:3 window; there is no way to expand letterbox material to fill the screen. (Zoom1 stretched the image vertically, so it's not useful at all.) With a 720p signal, the projector is fixed in Full mode; no other options are available. At 1080i, the only two choices are Full and 4:3, and Full is the only useful setting. As mentioned earlier, I want all aspect-ratio options available for all inputs and resolutions.

With its DCDi circuitry, the SP-H700AE should deinterlace 480i inputs exactly the same as any other DCDi-equipped device. To test this, we compared the 480i and 480p component outputs from a Panasonic DVD-RP56 DVD player (which also has DCDi) using the Faroudja/Sage test disc; as expected, the results were identical (i.e., excellent). We also tried the Silicon Optix HQV Benchmark disc using a 480i component connection, and the projector did a great job on that material as well. There was only a slight ripple in the first diagonal-filter pattern (rotating line) at about 5º and in the lowest line of the second diagonal-filter pattern (three oscillating lines).

I was told by a Samsung representative that the optics on this projector are not the most expensive (they had to be careful about the final price point), and that some reviewers had noticed some problems related to this. Neither TJN nor I saw any evidence of these problems. In fact, TJN was heard to say more than once, "I've got no complaints with the color or detail of this projector."

Just before the review was complete, we wanted to perform some final tests, but the projector started acting weird. It powered up normally, but after about 30 seconds, the screen went blank. The first time this happened, a hard reset cleared the problem, just like the initial difficulties we had. When we tried to use the projector a few days later, however, it happened again. This time, after five futile attempts, we had to conclude that it was no longer flight-worthy. Oddly, on two of these tries, the image that came up was not the source, but an inverted, flickering green screen; the inverted condition was apparent because the menu that controls the image orientation came up at the same time—upside down. The problem occurred on both the component and DVI inputs.

I took the projector over to Kane's studio, where it powered up fine (of course!). He determined that the internal software was not the latest version, and he informed me that units with earlier versions of the software were prone to strange behavior in response to IR commands from the remotes of other equipment. TJN certainly has a lot of IR commands flying about his studio, so this made some sense. After updating the software to version 2021, we left the projector on for one and a half hours with no problems.

As I said at the outset, the SP-H700AE was long delayed before Samsung would let reviewers get their hands on it. Was it worth the wait? Mostly yes and a little no. It certainly produces a gorgeous picture, with stunningly accurate color and razor-sharp detail. Watching a movie on this projector is an immensely satisfying experience. And for all the installers and technicians out there, the calibration process blows everything else completely out of the water.

Granted, the black level isn't the best I've seen, but it's not the worst, either; in fact, it seemed to be somewhat program-dependent. I might also wish for a bit more light output in the Theater (low) lamp mode. And of course, both of these factors affect the contrast ratio, which is less than I'd like. Finally, I saw more rainbows than I'm used to.

In the next generation of this projector (which will be introduced to the US market at Infocomm in mid-June), Samsung is using an HD2+ with DarkChip3 technology, which includes an 8-segment color wheel (the two extra segments are dark green). According to Kane, because the 8-segment wheel is larger than the 6-segment variety, it will let more ambient light through, actually raising the black level. However, the contrast ratio is said to have been improved by 12-15 percent, thanks in part to the two dark-green segments. In any event, Kane stresses that black level is a non-issue as long as the screen size and material are carefully chosen—which is certainly true, but a lower absolute black level gives you more flexibility in this regard.

Why might it not have been worth the wait (other than the fact that the next generation is now crowding its heels)? While this projector was being delayed, technology was moving on, and there are now several alternatives that produce quite a good picture for far less money; the Sony VPL-HS51 Cineza ($3500) comes to mind, with its auto iris that dramatically improves black level and contrast. However, the Sony's weakness—accurate color and grayscale tracking—is one of the Samsung's strengths, and the Sony certainly can't be calibrated with the ease and accuracy of the SP-H700AE.

Has the era of single-chip, HD2+ DLP projectors that cost over $10,000 receded into history? Not quite yet; the Samsung SP-H700AE may be one of the last of the breed, but it's also one of the best. Perhaps even more important, it's a model of how all video displays should be designed in terms of calibration and color accuracy. Manufacturers take note!

Highs and Lows

• Superb color accuracy
• Exquisite detail
• Radically easy calibration
• Excellent user interface

• Mediocre black level
• Low light output
• Less-than-stellar contrast ratio
• More rainbow artifacts than I'm used to seeing